New Orleans I had an opportunity to hear Donna Brazile, former head of the Democratic Party twice, most recently during the 2017 election cycle, before a group of political and activist women at the annual luncheon of the New Orleans-based Independent Women’s Organization (IWO) on the eve of the mayoralty election runoff in the city. This was something of a home game for her as a Louisiana woman, raised in the New Orleans working class suburb of Kenner, not far from the airport. As Brazile fondly pointed out, she came from a very large Catholic family with one of her sisters in the crowd. We knew her well through family connections as well since her aunt, Ethel Henderson, was Local 100’s chief steward in the Jefferson Parish schools for years.
In her remarks Brazile was both gracious and charming, thanking everyone high and low in a very Southern, personal way that went past the usual politician’s mandatory name checking. Citing her experience as a New Orleans cook, she also reminded the crowd that they were in for a steady pour of hot sauce. One spurt hit hard on Alabama’s Judge Roy Moore when she asked to much applause, “How can someone who was banned from a mall, be allowed in the US Senate?” You get the picture, right?
She was excited to be in town near the election because history was being made in the city for women. The runoff is between a city councilwoman and a recent judge, but the one thing that is clear is that the city is on the verge of electing its first woman as mayor and its first black woman as well, after having a white mayor, Mitch Landrieu, for eight years in this majority African-American city for the first time in thirty years. The biggest laugh of the day was when Brazile was being introduced and in a slip the woman referred to current mayor as “Mitch Morial,” combining the two political dynasties in city. She commented several times about the social change evident in the state when all three major Louisiana cities would have women mayor’s at the same time. Beat that, if you can, brothers and sisters.
Brazile was also promoting her new book, Hacks, about the campaign in 2016. Having worked with the Clintons for years, she was still unsparing in her view that she had not been respected in running the party and bridled at having to “talk to Brooklyn” where Hilary’s campaign was headquartered for permission to spend money she had raised. Political veterans have acknowledged that it was usual for a party’s presidential candidate and campaign to coordinate and direct much of the party’s efforts, and surely Brazile knew that coming into post as a quick replacement as Chair, when Wasserman was forced out.
The issue seemed to be more about respect, and for all the headlines, that’s the underlining message that political pros and activists shouldn’t miss. From her first campaign as a young activist coming out of Louisiana State University working on the campaign to create a national holiday in honor of Martin Luther King to a position as chair of the Democratic Party, political commentator, and consultant, buried in her remarks about the campaign was a message to not take black votes or black leadership for granted, and a feeling that part of the 2016 failure lay in that failure. Taking people for granted is the path to defeat.
Her bio, read as she was being introduced, was telling. Here was a local girl made good and a big whoop in Washington, but her list of honorary degrees for example were almost all from historic black colleges, except for her own Alma Mater, LSU. Xavier University was also on the list of HBC’s, but was the only Catholic university.
The hot sauce and the popping grease of Brazile’s remarks come from someone who pointedly recognized that honor was home and among her own people, no matter how far she had risen, all of which made her final remarks about “speaking truth to power” and “answering the call” more poignant, not just as inspiration but as warning and clarion call.